The ex-wife of Belgrade mayor Sinisa Mali has claimed that her former husband took part in the controversial demolition of buildings in the Savamala district, an area designated for the €3.2bn Belgrade Waterfront project.
The buildings were secretly demolished by a masked group on the night of April 24-25, 2016, sparking anger and mass demonstrations led by the “Don’t Drown Belgrade” citizens initiative. Mali was already believed by many Serbians to be at least partly responsible for the demolitions, so his ex-wife’s claims did not come as a surprise. However, her statement could now force the government to resolve the case, especially with presidential elections approaching this spring.
Marija Mali revealed to Serbian Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (KRIK) that her ex-husband bragged about his role in the demolitions. He reportedly took part because he wanted to “remove obstacles for construction of [Belgrade Waterfront]” - a joint project between the government and the United Arab Emirates’ Eagle Hills.
According to KRIK, Marija Mali agreed to speak publicly about her ex-husband after losing custody of their children after a court battle.
The pair divorced amicably in November 2015, but continued to pretend they were still married in public, KRIK reported. Marija claimed she had been forced into the charade, and also told the network that her former husband had been involved in various corrupt activities.
Marija Mali told KRIK that she had been on holiday with her children in Montenegro at the time of the demolitions, when the mayor flew in. “He told the story [about the demolition] as if it was just an ordinary event. ‘I had a problem, some didn’t want to move out. I organised cleaning action’,” she said.
Sinisa Mali reportedly told his ex-wife that he "organised everything on my own" and that "People came in the middle of the night, smashed something a little bit over there".
The mayor’s ex-wife indicated Mali had not expected the media storm the demolitions caused. “It wasn’t anticipated at all that anyone would notice that something was demolished,” the former Mrs Mali told KRIK.
“Sinisa had the task to clean up that space because he had negotiated with the Arabs to build Belgrade Waterfront there,” she added. However, she refused to disclose the name of the company that carried out the demolition.
Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has promised to provide “lengthy and thorough” information about the situation on February 14.
The government claims that Belgrade Waterfront will bring multiple benefits to the country, such as jobs, tourists and higher retail sales. However, the demolished area, a ruined barracks, now is getting a facelift, including a footpath along the River Sava.
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